THE North Shore Twins will take on a juggernaut in Round 1 of the B.C. Premier Baseball League this weekend but there is some evidence to suggest the matchup might not be as lopsided as it seems.
The Twins - who, barring a minor miracle on the last day of the season, will nab the league's eighth and final playoff spot - will travel to Langley to take on the Blaze in a double header Saturday to start a best of three series. If the teams split they'll come back to North Vancouver's Parkgate Park for the series finale Sunday.
On the surface it's a big mismatch. Langley finished first in the league with a 39-9 record, scoring more runs and allowing fewer than any other team. Blaze hitters are clustered at the top of the league's leaderboards while their ace pitcher, Jon Bauer, leads the BCPBL in wins and earned run average.
The Twins, meanwhile, have struggled to score runs and rank in the bottom half of the league in most offensive categories. So why are the Twins relishing the chance to take a shot at the top dogs?
"We've played Langley really, really well," said head coach Larson Bauck Tuesday as he prepared for the team's final home games of the regular season, a pair of rain-out replacing double headers Tuesday and Thursday that will likely have no effect on the final standings. "I don't think there's another club in the league that we've played better against on a consistent basis for the entire four games. I'm happy to see them. Obviously we didn't want to finish in eighth, that's not what we were looking to do, but at the end of the day it is what it is and you've got to prepare for it."
The Twins faced the Blaze in Langley on the first weekend of the season and lost two games, each by one run. When they clashed again in North Vancouver the Blaze won the first matchup in extra innings while the Twins claimed the finale 3-1.
Though his team has matched up well with the Blaze, Bauck knows that the Twins will have their hands full.
"They have six guys who can do some damage - they have a pretty balanced lineup," he said. "On the mound they don't have anyone who's going to come up and strike out 10 or 12 guys in a game, they've got guys who are going to throw strikes, keep the ball down, keep you off-balance and then throw hard enough that they can get their strikeouts."
While the head-to-head results give the Twins some hope, what's even more heartening for Bauck is the way his starting pitchers have performed this year. Kyle Olver led the league in strikeouts and was near the top of the board in ERA while Jordan Kellof and Clark Grisbrook have also put up good numbers.
"Our top three starters are arguably the best that you could roll out in the league. When Kyle and Jordan and Clark are on, they're tough to beat," said Bauck. "Kyle's got arguably the best stuff in the Premier League."
Both Olver and Grisbrook threw one-hitters this season, with a bloop single on the final out ruining Grisbrook's bid for a perfect game against the Vancouver Cannons April 22.
"Baseball's common line is good pitching beats good hitting. That's what it comes down to and I think that gives us an opportunity for sure," said Bauck. "When teams are looking at who they want to face and matchup with in the playoffs, I know for a fact that they don't want to play us. Nobody wants to play us because we've got really good pitching. If we can swing the bats the way that we're capable of then there's a good chance we're going to upset some teams."
The bats, however, have not always been there for the Twins this season. Cleanup hitter Tristan Graham was injured in early June and has not returned since, while infielder Louis Boyd has led the way all year.
"Louis is a very good hitter, he's an intelligent young man, he's an unbelievable competitor and he's a great athlete," said Bauck. "When you mix all those things together you're going to get a guy that makes adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, has the ability to do a lot of different things at the plate."
Third baseman Lachlan Fontaine has also been a dangerous hitter at times throughout the season. The Twins won't blow anyone away but if they execute at the plate they should be able to score enough to give their pitchers a chance to win, said Bauck.
"We've still got a lot of guys that can swing the bat. We just have to have a game plan and we need to stick to our game plan and put consistent at bats together," said Bauck. "If we have contributions from the bottom of the lineup and guys at the top of the lineup are finding their way on, then I like our chances with guys on base and Louis and Lachlan coming up."
It will all need to come together if the Twins have any hope of knocking off Langley. To beat the No. 1 team, they'll need to make every play count, said Bauck.
"We need to focus on the little things and not worry so much about the scoreboard," he said. "We need to play good defence, we need to pitch well and we need to execute offensively. The biggest thing is we need to make them beat us, we can't beat ourselves. If we do the little things well and execute offensively, with our pitching staff we should like what the scoreboard reads at the end of the game."
. . . Fontaine and Grisbrook were both picked for B.C.'s 17-andunder Selects Provincial Team that will compete in the Canada Cup tournament in London, Ont. Aug. 8-13. For tournament details visit cup.baseball.ca.
The Twins finish off their regular season with a double header tomorrow at Parkgate Park against the Abbotsford Cardinals. Game 1 starts at noon with Game 2 to follow at 2: 30 p.m. For updated playoff schedules and results visit www.bcpbl.com.